Change is one of the foundations of the IT world. The industry is based on the drive to use technology to do things more smartly and reap benefits that nobody could have envisaged just a few years before. New platforms, software, hardware and networks can provide a major boost to any organisation in terms of operating efficiencies, reaching customers and raising revenue, and no CIO can defer the prospect of change for a long time.
But it comes with a lot of pitfalls, especially if the organisation is among the early adopters of a new system, and if done without due care can turn out to cause so many problems it becomes counter-productive.
It’s partly because of bugs in the early releases of a system. Releases of IT products and services for consumers and business are often beset by problems that were not identified in development or testing, only emerging when they are thrown into the unpredictable conditions faced by individual users. It takes time to iron out the glitches, causing disruption for the early adopters and reducing their returns on the investment involved.
There are also the issues around compatibility with existing systems. Any new application or device has to interface smoothly with others in use, and process information in a way that makes sense for the applications already in place. This will become more demanding as the move towards ‘bring your own device’ gathers momentum, with a need to ensure that technology is compatible with systems designed primarily for consumers rather than business needs.
Equally important, and perhaps most often overlooked, is the people factor. When employees are expected to begin using new technology they have to feel comfortable in doing so. If they struggle to wrap their heads around the functioning of a new IT platform, or how a new application or hardware product works, it can disrupt operations and begin to create unanticipated costs. Most people take time to come to terms with a new technology, and don’t function well when they are dragged too far from their comfort zone. Any change will make demands on employees, but it helps a lot if new ways of working are relatively intuitive.
For example, people are going to take longer to get to grips with a new software application if the data sets are structured differently to those they already use, or they have to use a new set of rules for data entry. If a device has a keyboard or touchscreen radically different to those already used it will create problems for some users. If an operating system does not allow people to continue managing their documents in the same way they will need time to get the best out of the system.
There will be a few who are enthusiastic and quick to use new technology, but most people are comfortable with the familiar, some will try but struggle to get used to new systems, some will be anxious and some will resist. The problems are likely to increase if the processes are critical to the business and the pressure to change quickly becomes more intense.
All this creates a need for caution in managing a significant change. It needs a close look at the new systems on offer, and careful thought about whether it demands employees think differently in using them. The chances of a successful migration to a new system improve when it reflects the way that the people who will have to use the systems already use IT either at work or at home.
When a migration begins, proper training on new systems - not just half an hour for a run through at the user’s desk - is clearly important. But it is more likely to be successful if tested before migration, not only by the techies and the project management team, but by regular users. This shouldn’t be restricted to those who are more tech savvy, but those who show little enthusiasm for new IT, and those who are usually slow to adapt. This can throw up insights into the everyday use and highlight problems that would not otherwise have been anticipated.
Of course, the momentum for change is going to continue. CIOs will have to keep their eyes open for the technology developments that can provide genuine advantages for their business, and be prepared for a robust approach to make change happen. The challenge is to choose the right moment and adopt the right strategies to ensure that the dangers are minimised and the benefits realised to the full.